Last Monday, February 25th, I had the opportunity to share comments on the Barrie opioid death crisis. They were as follows:
Mayor Lehman, Members of General Committee, City Staff and Members of the Public
I wish you’d see, but never feel,
This illness dark, to some not real.
I wish you’d know, it hurts to breathe,
My lungs collapse, when comfort leaves.
I wish you’d cast my scars away,
Repair the marks I formed each day.
I wish that answers existed near,
To rid my soul of unfound fear.
I wish each tear was never there,
They drown my courage left to care.
I wish I’m brave enough to smile,
Sustain down heartache’s endless mile.
I wish you’d camouflage each sting,
The blackness seems to always bring.
I wish I knew I’d be ok,
Believe tomorrow’s another day.
But I can wish with all my might,
It won’t discount this ceaseless fight.
This wish will sail up to the sky,
With all the rest who’ve said good-bye.
I’ll wish tomorrow, just for hope,
Or conjure up some way to cope.
Through darkness black, I’ll make my way,
Exist again another day.
I wrote that poem on Nov 14, 2014, after my 3rd overdose in 2 years.
My family made funeral plans for me when I would not regain consciousness for 12 hours after an overdose. Doctors and nurses were certain that if I were lucky enough to survive, my liver would not. But with all of the odds stacked against me, I survived and so did my liver. It wasn’t time for me to leave this planet quite yet…I still had some pretty important work to do.
I am one of the lucky ones. Maybe none of what I just said sounds lucky to you, but I am one of the few who received the gift of residential treatment, because I had insurance as a paramedic, I was able to participate in treatment programs in Guelph, Ontario. While I was a patient at this treatment centre, I learned about life saving coping skills and was surrounded by peers who could relate to what I was going through. I learned how to process the trauma I was exposed to and how to utilize crisis plans. I had my medications stabilized and practiced cognitive behavioral therapy while I detoxed off of other prescription drugs and alcohol. One day at a time I learned how to live a healthy life. It certainly wasn’t easy, but it was worth it and never in my wildest dreams did I think it would lead me to sit in this chair as Barrie’s Ward 6 City Councillor.
We have an opportunity to be the voice of those whom we have lost, and the voice of those who are still suffering as we sit here today.
Every Canadian deserves the same chance at recovery that I received. One of the things I hear most often from people still suffering, is that they wish they could afford treatment. They wish they had the social support they needed. Currently, most treatment centres cost upwards of $30,000 for 8 weeks of intensive 24/7 care. And waiting lists are often 3-6 months long due to the lack of funded in-patient beds. In fact, there are only 15 permanent beds and 3 temporary beds for concurrent disorders at Georgianwood and 20 addiction treatment beds at Seven Seas treatment centre in North Simcoe. Combined, these are the only Local Health Integrations Network (LHIN) funded inpatient beds in the Simcoe County region. Taking cost and availability into consideration, residential treatment just isn’t feasible for most of the people in our community. And while these citizens of Barrie continue to wish they were so lucky, numbers are on the rise in Barrie. The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit reports there were 28 overdose related incidents…during the first 10 days of February. they are continuing to die at an alarming rate.
I can’t count how many lives I know of personally that have been affected by this emergency. But tonight I can introduce you to some. In the gallery tonight we have Evelyn and David Pollock, parents who lost their son Daniel to an opioid overdose in 2017. Daniel was only 43 when he lost his life, and I recently had the honour of sitting down with the Pollocks to learn about their talented and ambitious son. In Evelyn’s own words, “Grief is different each day. It numbs you. Paramedics, police officers, fire fighters, doctors, nurses, addiction councillors, youth workers, and social workers, are all grieving the needless loss of a generation of young people who will never have the chance to live out their lives.” She’s adds, “We need a community where money stops being poured into courts, jails and prisons to confine addicts, and rather is put into safe, dignified, long-term treatment programs, housing, and alternative healing options.”
I would also like to introduce you to Melissa and Gary Hurst, parents of Luke Kitson who at the young age of 19, on Mother’s Day morning, May 14, 2017, died of an unintentional overdose after being sold fentanyl-laced drugs by a dealer who is still selling drugs on the streets and in the school yards of Barrie to this day. Luke’s mom Melissa, has shared with me that, her “world collapsed that day and has never been the same.” She states that we are fighting a chemical war in our community at an increasingly alarming rate. We can no longer avoid dealing with this. This is a true emergency.”
Addiction and accidental overdoses do not discriminate. Families from all different sociodemographic and socioeconomic backgrounds are affected. According to health Canada, more than 9000 lives were lost due to opioids between January 2016 and June 2018. And it is important to know that 73% of the total opioid related emergency department visits were in Ontario alone. To put this emergency into perspective, 44 Canadians in total tragically died from the SARS epidemic. This begs the question, how are we not doing more for the opioid crisis when according to the Simcoe Muskoka Health Stats, in 2018, 50 people were presented to hospital each month with suspected opioid poisonings. Barrie led the way with 204 opioid visits in 2017. When did one become a tragedy and 100 become a statistic? I’m uncomfortable with how comfortable we’ve become with these staggering numbers.
Like anything, change starts at home. That is why I am calling on the City of Barrie to declare a public health emergency along with the provincial and federal government. Right here. Right now. Tonight.
It’s a drastic measure, but this is not unprecedented. You will find in your binder an article from the Toronto Star that reports that after the inquest into the death of Bradley Chapman, who died of an opioid overdose in April 2015, the jury recommended that the province of Ontario declare a public health emergency concerning the opioid overdose epidemic. The jury felt that the way we are managing drug use currently, is not working. You will also find an article from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), stating that the Vancouver Mayor, Gregor Robertson, called the fentanyl opioid crisis, “a horrific public health emergency.” He sat down with Health Minister Jane Philpott and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, and identified key barriers to their local efforts, including delays in access to treatment.
As a Municipality, by Barrie Declaring a Public Health Emergency, we will send a message of the critical state we are in, enact and deploy every possible measure and resource we have to increase awareness and educational outreach. It will also seek to increase the availability of pathways to treatment and recovery, and implement measures to remedy the gaps which exist in providing these critical services while providing safer, supervised environments for those experiencing addiction to consume. And through this process, take advantage of the opportunity to create a model response and fight to preserve and embrace the quality of the lives of our most vulnerable citizens. Only when there is a comprehensive and coordinated response will we get a handle on this emergency. There are no throw away people.
Members of Council I urge you to join me and put increased pressure on all levels of government to do more to help Canadians by recognizing this for what it is, a national emergency. I request that you support my motion to invite to the table right here in Barrie, Ministers to review the country’s framework for public health emergencies.
The Federal Emergencies Act allows for special temporary measures to ensure safety and security during national emergencies. If cabinet declared a public health emergency under the Act, the government could then quickly deploy funding, resources and set up emergency clinics.
Furthermore, this motion would encourage the province of Ontario to acknowledge the significant impacts this emergency has created, and assess how it will continue to impact the future by enhancing the focus of emergency management programs. It is important to remember that before HIV was declared an epidemic, the limited response cost countless lives for a generation of our loved ones. Let’s show that we have learned from our past, and stand as a united government.
As a municipality we strive to provide our residents with a safe community in which to raise their families and thrive. This motion speaks to the heart of that.
The media, the public health unit and doctors from RVH, have already put a spotlight on the crisis, and yes, calling a public health emergency may put Barrie under the microscope a bit more, but this is our opportunity to lead the way to a solution. This is our opportunity to set an example for other municipalities to do the same for their residents. Does calling a public health emergency feel uncomfortable? Yes, and in the short-term some may worry that the optics of an emergency would affect the addition of new businesses in Barrie. But I can tell you that the CURRENT businesses downtown are desperate for significant change. Furthermore, in the long-term, businesses may be attracted to Barrie because they know that the opioid crisis has been addressed here. Declaring an emergency may be uncomfortable, but we SHOULD be uncomfortable about the state of what is happening right before our eyes.
Members of committee, while creating our strategic plan, we said that we would dare to be bold. What we can’t do alone, we can do together. Now is our chance to do just that. Members of Committee, I hope you will join me in support of this motion.
After a lengthy and very productive debate, council voted in favour (unanimously) for the following amended motion:
WHEREAS Barrie ranks third among large municipalities in Ontario for opioid overdose emergency department (ED) visit rates.
WHEREAS there were 81 opioid-related deaths in Simcoe Muskoka in 2017, with 36 of those deaths in Barrie.
WHEREAS there were an estimated 4000 opioid-related deaths across Canada in 2017.
WHEREAS the central north area of Barrie (which includes downtown) had 10 times the rate of opioid overdose ED visits in 2017 than the provincial average, and four times the overall Barrie average.
WHEREAS the Canadian drug and substances strategy and the Simcoe-Muskoka Opioid Strategy are based on the pillars of Prevention, Treatment, Harm Reduction, Enforcement, and Emergency Management.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED
THAT staff investigate the implications of having the Mayor declare a local emergency under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act due to the escalation of the opioid crisis and report back to General Committee in three weeks.
THAT the City of Barrie calls for Federal and Provincial funding to support, enhance, and expand evidence-based treatment and rehabilitation services, addiction prevention and education, and harm reduction measures.
THAT the City of Barrie calls for Federal and Provincial funding to address the root causes of addiction, including housing, poverty, unemployment, mental illness and trauma.
THAT the City of Barrie calls for Federal and Provincial funding to enforce laws surrounding illicit drug supply, production, and distribution.
THAT this resolution be distributed to: the leaders of all parties represented in the House of Commons and the Legislature; the Minister of Health; the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness; the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care; and the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services and that the Federal and Provincial Ministries of Health be requested to provide a response within three weeks.
THAT this resolution be distributed to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), the Large Urban Mayors Caucus of Ontario (LUMCO), the County of Simcoe, the Barrie Police Service, and the Ontario Provincial Police.